With an estimated 22.7 million people as at June 30 last year – little more than the numbers of a large third world city – Australia is a tiny country from a population standpoint.

With this in mind, the concept of having a single set of building rules and regulations is basic common sense. Efforts in the 1990s to achieve exactly this were commendable and as a result of these efforts, the Building Code of Australia now does much of the heavy lifting in terms of regulatory quality control around the country.

Over time, however, small pieces of tinkering at individual state levels saw rules diverge again. The upshot is that our construction industry is increasingly polarised by eight different acts of parliament and bureaucratic regimes – a situation which in practical terms means a mess of duplication across jurisdictional boundaries involving separate practitioner registration bodies; separate fees; varying qualification and no uniform qualification and experience criteria (so much for COAG); different approval regimes; fully privatised certification in some regimes, partial privatisation in others; occupancy permits being issued by building surveyors in some jurisdictions, the Crown in others; and planning and building acts fused together in some states but dedicated building acts in others. There isn’t even a unified name for the occupation which signs off on the start of buildings – building surveyors in Victoria versus principal certifying authorities in New South Wales.

For builders operating across state borders, this creates an unnecessary burden involving, in the case of companies operating across the whole nation, no fewer than eight different processes, sets of registration fees and examinations and, in many cases, lawyers.

The answer is simple: a move back toward harmonisation and efficiency. And with a new federal government, now’s the time.

The construction industry in Australia not only employs more than one million workers and contractors but also creates the built environment in which people live, work, learn and play.

It must not become bogged down with compliance and red tape. It is too important for that.

  • Kim, another great article.

    The second paragraph is a succinct overview of the current building certification system across the country.

    It’s little wonder people move out of building surveying completely or move into more specialised areas, such as fire engineering, access, project management etc.

    The whole building certification system needs a shake-up, including a public awareness campaign on the role of a building surveyor and the importance of the functions and responsibilities they hold.

    Just don’t get me started on the tertiary education system for building surveying courses in Victoria that aren’t even recognised by the industry’s own association……….

    • Well said! Unfortunately we (Building Surveyors) are the principal cause of our own PR problems. …. In many cases we don't know or were never educated in what we are or meant to be…………… Engineers and Architects treat us like consultants………. So we end up practicing like consultants. …. Some compromise their professional ethics and forget our principal reasons for being?…. A statutory Officer (Public or Private) charged with the legislative responsibility for undertaking 3rd Party independent Assessment and Certification of Building/Engineering Design and Inspection of Building Work……………If we don’t get it how are governments and the wider community meant to understand the important roles we undertake.?

  • Red tape and bureaucracy in general is killing the construction industry. It takes longer to prepare, submit and approve paperwork than it actually does to do the work. Everybody is more worried about making sure every box is ticked and complete due process is followed than actually getting the work done.

  • Couldn’t agree more. It is an absolute joke.
    It feels like when an OH&S rep comes on-site today, it’s not to improve safety, but to find a way to close the job.

  • I totally agree with you Rob Stone and, at the crux of it, I think that’s what the author was alluding too also. The “system” is fractured by 3 levels of government and further fragmented by 7 different jurisdictions each with its own political agenda governing 13 different types of Local Government broken down into 565 areas across Australia…each in turn with their own rules. As a Private Certifier operating in Queensland and Northern Territory not only am I required to be an expert in the BCA and over 100 nominate Australian, American, British and International Standards/Guides/Protocols.
    I am also required to be an expert in state Planning laws and Local Government Planning Schemes and Local Laws together with appropriate versions of the Acts, Regulations and Ministerial Guides. Further to that, I have to be accredited and registered to operate in each State and Territory… each with its own set of educational and experience requirements (and quirky PI cover requirements) together with different yearly CPD training requirements. This all leads to being audited regularly by the watchdog in each State and Territory together with having my Building Approvals monitored by the Local Government for compliance. With a mandatory $10 mil PI insurance requirement… I have a very large bullseye on my back! Is the average Joe going to make you tick the boxes? Under the current regime…hell yes!

    • Could not agree more with all of the responses. We have an apparent inactive DAF with no teeth to make things move and the ABCB seem unable to get rid of state based variations. We have state governments writing new laws, e.g. Planning Bill 2013 (NSW). What we need is brave state and federal members championing this cause.

  • I’m site managing a small civil works project for an LNG installation … construction pad, footings, and access road, finito … the mountain of OHS paperwork is phenominal and keeping us from doing our jobs on site. OHS is important but it has become a two-headed bureaucratised industry of its own and is strangling the workplace ! The subbies are p’d off as they waste the first hour or so of their day dicking around with writing up their work for the day, holding hands and chanting kum-ba-yah. [/sarc/ off]

    I’ve noticed, as well, how OHS is being increasingly used to ‘terrorise’ the workforce into submission and control. The Y2k and QA phenomena are not yet a distant memory … this is going the same way.

  • Have you ever thought about writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would value your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

  • Harmonisation would be a great thing if it could be achieved. After 41 years in the construction & service Industry I won't hold my breath waiting for it.
    In the days of full regulation I'm of the opinion that the standard of workmanship was higher; had to be due to thorough inspection on each installation.
    Any relevant codes are minimum requirement. I was always taught to exceed the minimum requirements, makes it easier to sleep at night.
    These days in my opinion it is far too easy getting away with not achieving the minimum requirement, so maybe more regulation may be the answer. Could result in reduction of inherent defects, therefor savings for the industry in general.

  • This is not just a problem that needs solving in Australia Kim. New Zealand has only one Building Act for the whole Country and one set of regulations yet we still cannot get it right.NZ has such diverse conditions across its length that a one size fitts all aproach is difficult if not impossiable to achieve.We are trying though and the first thing is to get the whole Country working under the same document and quality asurance system. If we can get that working we just may be in for a chance.The Building Control sector has been very patch protective in the past and not willing to share their own sucesses with others. With the introduction of accreditation for Building Consent Authorties (Councils) and the huge investment costs involved in gainning and retaining accreditation it was soon learnt (five years) that there were cost savings to be made if the indivdual Councils worked together to develop new systems and process and shared the costs. So there may be your anwser , make it more cost effective to work together rather than a seperat entity and you just may get some traction in the direction you need to go.
    Regards Andre.